Organic Farmer Aid Bill Passes State Assembly

A bill that would give cash amounts up to $250 to farmers who seek to get their crops certified as organic passed the State Assembly Thursday. 

Authored by democratic Assemblymember Michael Allen, the measure would use industry and private sources to fund the program similar to a federal program that allocates up to $750 to farmers who are going organic.

Michael Wong, who runs the Loving Nature Farm in Clarksburg, is in the process of getting the state certification. It's taken almost three years of paperwork and frequent inspections that he has to pay for. He doesn't use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers on his small plots of carrots, kale, French radishes and strawberries.  He says organic vegetables are too expensive already. Wong understands why many farmers shy away from going organic.

"Especially the smaller farmers; that will cost a lot of time and money and a lot of paperwork," said Wong.

Allen, who represents Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties where organic farming has taken hold, said small family farms need a leg up to transition into organic farming.

"It's a big decision, it can be costly.  But there is a premium once you make that decision but you need help when you make the transition," said Allen.

A similar bill was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who believed administering the program would be too time-consuming by the Department of Food and Agriculture.

But Allen says California is a leader in organic farming and it's can be an economic boon to the state if barriers to switching to organic farming can lowered without using taxpayer funds.

"It's a positive thing for California, for the economy and for our farmers," said Allen.

The bill now goes to the State Senate for consideration.